Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Film Music of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson is one of my favorite of all film composers and so I couldn't resist writing a blog about this magnificent man. Well, I really don't know how magnificent he is in real-life....but judging from his music he sure is magnificent.

Most people are familiar with one particular piece of music that Laurie Johnson wrote, even if they do not recognize his name - The Theme to The Avengers, the popular ultra-cool British spy show of the 1960s. It's unique bongo beating beginning leads us into the tinkling of champagne glasses before the real theme begins....a delectable mixture of big band and mod London swing which captures the spirit of the show to perfection. 

Although this is his most internationally recognized work of theme music, he wrote many other scores for popular films such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, First Men in the Moon, Tiger Bay and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. 

Laurie Johnson was born on February 7th, 1927...( Happy Birthday Mr. Johnson!! ) in Hampstead, England. After studying at the Royal College of Music he launched his music career at the young age of 19 by working as an arranger/composer for Ted Heath and his band. And later for bandleaders such as Jack Parnell and Ambrose. 

Before venturing to the film industry he dabbled in making dance arrangements of popular songs of the mid-50s at Pye Records ( later home to such artists as Tony Hatch, Petula Clark and the Kinks ). 

In 1955 he began work as an arranger and orchestrator at some smaller film studios in London such as the Associated British Picture Corporation until he worked his way up to getting assignments as a composer. His first full-fledged film production was a film called The Moonraker which starred legendary English actors Eric Portman and Celia Johnson. 

It wasn't until 1959 that he made his first big hit with the score for Tiger Bay, a suspense drama starring John Mills, Horst Bucholz and Hayley Mills. After a few more minor films such as I Aim at the Stars ( about the life of Werner Von Braun ), Operation Bullshine, and Spare the Rod, he hit his "prime" and began writing for film and television in such an astounding succession. 

One of his most beautiful songs is the Romance theme to Ray Harryhausen's First Men in the Moon ( 1964 ), a gentle "light classic" that captures the Victorian English country setting that the movie took place in and rather brings to mind the theme to another great H.G Wells film The Time Machine. Laurie Johnson had been working as an assistant to composer Bernard Herrmann on previous Charles Schneer fantasy productions such as Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts so when Herrmann declined to accept the assignment for First Men in the Moon Johnson took the helm and did quite a magnificent job.

He entered the UK Singles Chart with "Sucu Sucu" the theme music to the television series Top Secret in 1961 and it was in television scoring that he was to be most prolific. Between 1965-1980 he worked on such wonderful series as The Avengers, The Professionals, The New Avengers, Shirley's World, and Thriller. 

In the 1960s and 1970s he continued to be busy composing for films, composing his own symphonies,as well as for theatre work. Hot Millions and Hedda have especially lovely melodies and in 1967 he composed the music for a stage version of The Four Musketeers. 

In the late 1980s to early 1990s he composed the music to several TV movie adaptions of historical romance writer Barbara Cartland's novels including A Hazard of Hearts ( what a beautiful score! ) and The Lady and the Highwayman. But alas, in the realm of film and television Laurie Johnson has since ceased to be active. Currently he is still very much involved in his band The London Big Band which specializes in performing big band swing and pop music. 


  1. He composed a lot of fine music, but my faves have to be THE AVENGERS theme and his terrific score to CAPTAIN KRONOS.

  2. You're quite right, Laurie Johnson wrote a tremendous body of great music...but it is a shame that he is not very well recognized, especially among Americans. His Avengers theme is a classic for sure.